Date of Award


Degree Name

EdD Doctor of Education

Dissertation Committee

Mary Jo Abascal-Hildebrand, EdD, Director; Mary W. Scherr, PhD; Freda P. Callahan, EdD


accountability, empowering, Ethnography, Leadership studies, multisite case study, school administration, school restructuring, student achievement, teachers


Accountability is the watchword of the 1990s, particularly in education. In exchange for greater flexibility and autonomy, schools have been asked to assume greater accountability for student outcomes. Implicit in this shift of authority and responsibility is the belief that changing the locus of control will result in changes in student achievement. Decentralizing accountability thus has multiple implications for the teaching and learning process, governance and decision making, and school site leadership. In 1993, San Diego City Schools adopted a student achievement accountability policy and initiated a demonstration program to develop an accountability system model for the district. This ethnographically-oriented case study investigated three of these pilot schools through interviews with teachers and site administrators, site observations, and document review. The purpose was to explore issues, challenges, and successes involved in school reform around student achievement accountability; identify what kinds of governance and leadership were most embraced by the teachers and administrators; look into school accountability cultures; and discuss implications for educational policymakers and practitioners. The study found that implementation of the accountability policy occurred uniquely in each context in interaction with school culture and collective experience. At all three schools, however, focusing on standards and developing related assessments engaged teachers in substantive conversations about student performance, and teaching and learning, which began to influence instructional practices. These schools embraced participatory governance structures that empowered teachers to engage in and influence decision making, and school site leadership began to evolve into a communal endeavor shared among teachers and administrators. The intersection of student achievement accountability, school restructuring, and school site leadership has significant implications for educators. The study presents the following recommendations to educational policymakers and practitioners: (a) encourage and sustain site autonomy and accountability by building capacity for meaningful, participatory school site decision making; (b) invest heavily in ongoing, systematic professional and organizational development; (c) promote entrepreneurial mindsets grounded in sound educational practice, and consider reform efforts as research and development opportunities; and (d) reconceptualize and develop leadership as an empowering, relational process.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access